Russia revives Euro 2016 prospects with win over Sweden

© Grigoriy Sisoev
Russian football manager Leonid Slutsky celebrated his first game in charge of Russia’s national team with a 1-0 win over Sweden at Moscow’s Otkrytie Arena.

“The match was tense and immersive, it seemed like the first half passed in just a second,” said Slutsky, who also manages CSKA Moscow, at a press conference afterwards. “I am really happy that we were able to hold onto the difficult victory.”

© Grigoriy Sisoev

Russia opened the scoring in the 38th minute after a back heel from captain Roman Shirokov, and a diving pass from Zenit’s Igor Smolnikov that left the goal at the mercy of his teammate Artyom Dzyuba, who poked the ball past the flailing Andreas Isaksson.

Sweden’s superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced off with a leg injury early in the second half, but the Swedes pressed for an equalizer, coming close several times, but an evidently tiring Russia stood its ground.

The key win over their direct rivals adds steam to Russia’s stuttering qualification campaign for next year’s European Championship’s in France.

Despite being an early favorite to qualify from one of the top two automatic spots in Group G, it has found itself in third place, with worsening results culminating the departure of Italian coach Fabio Capello in July.

With the latest result, Russia is now only one point behind second-placed Sweden, which has 12 points after seven games. Austria appears unreachable, with 19 points, and only three games to go.

Russia will play its next qualifying match against minnows Lichtenstein on Tuesday.